Public Access Whistling Straits

By Erik PetersonJune 12, 2010, 12:01 am
Whistling Straits
This painting of No. 5 at the Straits Course has special meaning to Whistling Straits

KOHLER, Wis. – If a plumber said he planned to build a golf resort in Wisconsin that would rival Pebble Beach, he’d be laughed out of the room. Fifteen years ago Herb Kohler, the venerable president of Kohler Company, had such a vision and this summer the Straits Course at his beloved Whistling Straits is already hosting its second PGA Championship.

Not bad for a cheesehead.

In addition to bold, the Straits is all things a championship course should be: Scenic and demanding, with a dozen or more holes that make you say, “Wow.”

Despite its glory, however, perhaps its most important characteristic is that it’s open to the public. In fact, this summer, for the first time in history, the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship all take place at venues open to the public.

For the first time since 1916, the year the PGA Championship joined the major championship rotation, the season’s final three majors will be played on public access venues. From Pebble Beach to St. Andrews’ Old Course and Whistling Straits, the public, with advanced notice and plenty of cash, can enjoy the same Grand Slam ground as the pros.

GolfChannel.com dispatched three correspondents to make the major rounds. Check the progress of each course and the people that make the Grand Slam pilgrimage.

Public Access features:
Hoggard: The 2010 Majors
Mell: Pebble Beach Golf Links

Baggs: Old Course at St. Andrews


Whether you’re a PGA Tour star, a middle-aged couple from Toronto, or a quadriplegic who’s a nearby resident, Whistling Straits is your golf course. But before being introduced to the people who enjoy visiting Whistling Straits, you need to know about Pete Dye, the crazy man who built it.

When Kohler approached Dye about designing Whistling Straits he asked him to do what Dye does best:  The impossible. The site, an abandoned 560-acre airfield along Lake Michigan, was a flat wasteland that looked more like the surface of the moon than PGA Championship staples like Southern Hills or Medinah.

That is, until Dye got his hands on it.

'I should say this with some degree of modesty. But in my lifetime I've never seen anything like this. Anyplace. Period,' Dye gushed in 1998 prior to the opening of the Straits Course.

Amazing what an unlimited budget and 13,000 truckloads of sand can do for you.

“Pete Dye has always made the most of the glorious possibilities that the land affords,” Kohler said. “He is nature’s best collaborator and this time, he has truly outdone himself.”

The Straits Course is the crown jewel of the American Club, the only AAA five-diamond resort in the Midwest. But its other three courses – Irish and two at Blackwolf Run – are no slouches either. Each is considered one of America’s 20-best public golf courses and the River Course at Blackwolf Run will host its second U.S. Women’s Open in 2012.

Kohler’s trio rivals Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Spanish Bay. In fact, Bandon Dunes is the only other golfing trio that garners such high praise, but the hotel accommodations there are like college dorms compared with the American Club.
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For husband and wife Eric Kay and Gloria MacDonald, the comparison of Whistling Straits to Pebble Beach was something they wanted to judge for themselves. Since marrying in 2004, they’ve been on a mission to experience the best golf courses they can find – including Pebble Beach, which was tops on their list before visiting Kohler.

He, a Toronto attorney, and she, the owner of a Canadian dating website, have the likes of Bandon Dunes, Ireland and Scottsdale on their golf vacationing résumé, but after playing the Straits this spring on a sun-soaked 80-degree afternoon they both admitted Kohler’s three championship golf courses have taken over the top spot.

When asked to compare Pebble Beach with Kohler, their joviality was as evident as the sky was blue that day.

“There’s no comparison,” Gloria beamed from the clubhouse patio that overlooks the ninth and 18th greens at the Straits. “This is 10 times better than Pebble Beach.”

“The Straits Course is in better shape than Pebble and there aren’t any weak holes here,” Eric added.

While they agreed the majestic ocean views of Pebble Beach are unequalled, they were enamored by Pete Dye’s design at the Straits, where mighty Lake Michigan is visible from the tee or green on every hole and an eye-popping 1,200 bunkers litter the rugged landscape. Grassy dunes frame holes like imposing natural walls.

Whistling Straits has the treachery of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and the raw, natural hazards of Kiawah’s Ocean Course.

When the world’s best golfers got their first glimpse of Whistling Straits at the 2004 PGA Championship, benign conditions the first three days gave way to a brutally windy Sunday. Though Vijay Singh ended up winning in a playoff, his first birdie of the final round didn’t come until the playoff. Chris DiMarco was the only player in the final nine groups to break par that day.

Whistling Straits had lived up to its blustery name and the golf world took notice. The following year Whistling Straits was awarded the 2010 PGA Championship, becoming the first public venue to re-host the championship so quickly. In 2015 it will re-break that record by hosting again, and it will also host the 2020 Ryder Cup.

Three majors and a Ryder Cup before its 22nd birthday? Tiger Woods wasn’t that good, that fast.

But you don’t even have to play the golf course to be inspired by Whistling Straits. Twenty-six-year-old Adam Spenner of Jackson, Wis., is a quadriplegic and breathes with the aid of a ventilator, but that hasn’t stopped him from experiencing all that Whistling Straits has to offer.

At age 3, an astrocytoma brain tumor took away Spenner’s ability to stand and speak, but while he and his family became regular attendees of the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee he developed a love for the sport, despite the fact that he’s unable to hold a golf club.

That doesn’t matter to Spenner. He just loves golf.

At the 2004 PGA Championship, Spenner caught national attention when Phil Mickelson stopped to chat with him during one of his rounds. The poignant mid-round gesture, almost unheard of during an event of such magnitude, created quite a stir among surrounding spectators and put the two in the middle of a mob scene that looked more like Phil and Tiger. Instead, it was Phil and Adam.

Since then Spenner has returned to Whistling Straits on a monthly basis to have lunch with his family. In a thank you letter to Kohler, he wrote about his new-found joy.

“I can’t play golf, but it is my life,” he wrote.

In addition to golf he’s taken up art, and a painting of Whistling Straits (above) that he created using his mouth to hold the paint brush adorns a wall in the clubhouse. If you ask any of the staff about Adam, they’ll tell you he's as much a part of Whistling Straits as the wind off Lake Michigan.

“Adam’s involvement with Whistling Straits makes us proud to be a public-access facility,” said head professional Mike O’Reilly. “If we weren’t open for the public to see and play there are so many things that wouldn’t be included in the Whistling Straits story, including Adam Spenner himself.”

Fifteen years ago when the plumber from Wisconsin envisioned a public course on par with Pebble Beach, it seemed unlikely. But like Adam Spenner wielding a paint brush, some people have the vision to turn a blank canvas into a masterpiece.

Public Access features:
Rex Hoggard: The 2010 Majors
Randall Mell: Pebble Beach Golf Links
Mercer Baggs: Old Course at St. Andrews
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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.